This article was originally published on All Out Cricket on September 9th 2016.

Bright, expressive and preternaturally mature, Lancashire’s teenage sensation Haseeb Hameed is set to be named in England’s winter touring party next Friday. It would take some guts, but then it didn’t do Cook or Root much harm. Phil Walker spoke to the kid we can’t stop talking about.

The landscape of county cricket is a cloggy old marshland, packed dense with craggy sons of the soil, ageless scarecrows and fresh-faced farmhands each living out, as best they can, ball upon ball, their own peculiarly private dreams and conjoined disappointments. In short, a beautiful place.

Still, the idea that these toilers and labourers fetishise the England sweater and long to one day break free of the shires to dress up in one – it just isn’t true, not really. Lots of cricketers who earn a crust from the game never entertain such things. It’s just not in their thoughts. They’re too busy trying to weather the hardest game of them all.

But then, every so often, something special comes along, infused with certainty. It doesn’t happen often, but if you hang around this game for long enough you can see them coming from miles out.

Earlier this summer – a summer in which Haseeb Hameed, a 19-year-old opening batsman from Bolton in his first full season, has left his mark on Lancastrian cricket history – Durham played Lancs in a match at Southport. It was a Championship game, so Hameed was playing. (He has yet to play a professional limited-overs match of any description, but more of that later.)

Both teams were scrapping for their lives. It was hot. “One of the hotter days of the year,” he tells AOC. “And I was wearing a short-sleeved sweater. At one point Graham Onions turns to me and says, ‘Well, I’m clearly not gonna get you out today. So my aim is just to make you take that jumper off…’”

Now, Onions has been tilling the land for some time. He’s the kind of gnarled, pensive oldster who gives county cricket a good name. He’s also bounced out Ricky Ponting in an Ashes Test, so he knows what he’s up against. But while this little story enlightens his own class, and that of the game when played by good people, it also demonstrates the unusually close affection in which this boy Hameed is already held. By most normal measures, some jumped-up kid, with all this objectionable precocity – and an opening batsman to boot – would be thrown all kinds of unhinging abuse. Not here. Respect, even a murmur of deference, is assured. It only happens to the special ones.

Others have not been quite so debonair. “At the start of the year Tino Best bowled me a quick spell,” he recalls. “Came round the wicket and bowled some short stuff with a few catchers around the bat.” Did he get you? “Nah, I got through that one. And in the second innings against Yorkshire Tim Bresnan came pretty hard at me and gave me a few verbals. You’ve got to chuckle.” After the match Bresnan turned to him.

“That was a seriously special knock,” he said.

Bresnan could have been referring to either of the boy’s centuries in that game. If most of us already knew about Haseeb Hameed before Yorkshire visited Lancashire in mid August, no one was in the dark by the end of it. It’s what happens when a teenager does something no man has ever achieved before.

“Do you know what? I still don’t think it’s sunk in. It may never! I don’t know, maybe down the line. To be the first one from Lancashire to score hundreds in both innings against Yorkshire, it’s pleasing because you’re in the history books forever.”

That second-innings century was his fourth of the year. Another record: no teenager from any county anywhere has ever made as many centuries in a single season. The run began in late June, with a maiden hundred versus Warwickshire in a tight third-innings tussle against Keith Barker, Boyd Rankin, Rikki Clarke and the best spinner in the English game, Jeetan Patel. Then, against Notts in July he batted for 386 minutes in the final innings to blunt the international leg-spinner Imran Tahir and save the game, prompting Notts boss Mick Newell to proclaim the boy ready for Test cricket.

Standing out in all of that – make that four centuries in six weeks – has to be the floodgates-opener against Warwickshire, and not just for the presence of Patel, who bowled 38 fruitless overs. Hameed remembers (with razor-sharp recall) going into the third innings with a plan to set the game up. “We wanted to get a big lead and stick them in on the last day because it was turning big. We were all aware of Patel, and [left-arm seamer] Keith Barker was creating some good rough for him outside my off-stump with his follow-through, and the wicket was dry as it was.

“I remember initially wanting to play quite positively. Me and [fellow opener] Tom Smith had a chat at tea and said to be more positive. But then we lost four quick wickets, so again I had to change my approach and revert to that slightly more defensive mode, because potentially we could have put ourselves under some pressure. Then Liam Livingstone came in at No.7 and we spoke about just rebuilding until the close. Finally we were able to get a few runs quickly on the last morning and stick ‘em in.”

And dealing specifically with Patel, at Old Trafford? The most potent spinner in the county game, on the biggest turning surface? “I’ve worked a lot on playing spin and I like to see it as a strength of mine. There was a massive foothole there, you couldn’t just lunge at the ball, with the close catchers that they had around. It was always only gonna be a matter of time before you holed out, so for me it was a case of judging length quickly and then using my feet and not getting stuck on the crease. I don’t really sweep much, I try and play each ball on its merits and not to pre-meditate much, look for the gaps and manipulate the ball.”

You may also remember that it turns appreciably in Bangladesh and India too.

His cheerful sanguinity in response to everything cricket has thrown at him so far marks him out as one of those outliers – like Root, like Cook – with the requisite brains, pluck and unstrained self-belief to basically go as far as his talent will take him. He is also indubitably an “openin’ batta”, and while the idea of taking the first ball is a scarring horror for almost anyone who’s ever tried and failed to do it, from pros to proles and all points in between, Hameed has never not opened.

“It’s interesting,” he carries on blissfully, “because even when you’re playing the quickest bowlers, you kind of become more accustomed to it and more used to it as you go along. You don’t realise that you’re facing someone bowling quick, and then you see them on the telly a couple of days after and they’re bowling 85mph, and you think, d’you know what? This guy can bowl some heat…”

Willowy and “not the strongest”, Hameed has yet to play a one-day match for Lancashire, and it’s led to the creation of an archetype: the comforting throwback, the Boycs matryoshka doll, the ‘dig-in’ dedicatee to a seam of batsmanship many feared had passed us by. It’s true that he bats time. He plays straight. He plays late, under his eyes, and accumulates. Between deliveries he grooves his forward block, and then puts it into practice. But these clichés limit him.

“People will have their opinions, and because I’m just playing four-day cricket at the moment, people possibly have that opinion [of me]. I’m an opening batter at the age of 19 coming up against some high quality opposition, so at times it’s not gonna be easy to just go out there and hit boundaries left, right and centre.

“But it’s something I’ve always said: I wanna emulate guys like the role models that I have right now. Kohli, Root, Williamson, players who play very organised cricket across the three formats extremely well. And if I’m right, I think Joe Root started off more as a long-form specialist and developed his game as he went on. So it just goes to show that if you’ve got the basics and you’re strong in your basics, then you can develop your game very quickly. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hit the ball out the park – though that’s part of the game as well. You just need to watch Kohli, the way he manipulates gaps so well and times the ball. I’m confident that down the line I’ll be able to do that as well.”

Anyone who saw Hameed scampering to history against Yorkshire would surely concur. That second hundred occupied just 173 minutes and 124 balls.

It’s always been cricket. Hameed’s family breathes it. He often talks in terms of ‘we’, much like a boxer or a golfer does, swelled as they invariably are by dedicated support systems often overseen by the old man, and in the Hameed household, it’s dad who runs the show. A semi-professional club cricketer in Lancashire since coming to England from India, Ismail Hameed’s obsession has been passed on to his three boys, his youngest recalling a “first memory” of pestering his dad to throw balls at him in the living room of their Bolton house, which he would then hit (punchily, through the covers, minimal flourish, dominant top hand) “with a mini-bat that I’ve still go to this day”. After that maiden hundred against Warwickshire, Hameed dedicated the innings to his parents, and in particular his father, telling ESPNcricinfo that he “has probably sacrificed his whole life for moments like that”.

Something akin to a masterplan appears to be in place. As a boy already sure of his future path, young Haseeb made two trips to India on his own, to stay with relatives and find more cricket matches. “Out there, you quickly learn how to play the turning ball because you’ve got spinners coming left, right and centre at ya! They’ve been invaluable experiences for me.”

All this preternatural maturity has been much remarked upon this summer, in general tones of halting excitement, of optimism tempered with prudence, with old-school caveats not to rush the boy. And yet when Trevor Bayliss was asked about him last week, he gave a very Australian answer to a very English question. “If he’s good enough, he’s old enough. I wouldn’t have any problem picking him.”

So, has he sat down with his old man, late one night, and dared to discuss the possibility – let’s say probability – of a Test debut out in Bangladesh before India, India, gets going?

“We’ve not spoken specificially about India or anything like that. The one thing about my dad, he’s always trying to prepare me for the next level. And with all this talk about possibly Bangladesh and India, we just talk about playing in the subcontinent and things like that. It’s never really struck me, or struck us I think, that we’d be playing against India – obviously with my parents being from India. He’s always told me to play for England and give my all for England.”

And does he expect to be on that plane? “I suppose that’s just for the selectors to decide…” he giggles, the old hand effortlessly deflecting it wide of third man. Heard any whispers then? “I’m as much in the dark as anyone else. I’ve seen a few articles and whatnot, but you can never trust the media, can ya!”

Victory assured, he could have left it there. Plenty would. Plenty do. But Haseeb Hameed is propulsive. “I’ve been asked if I feel like I’m ready. And I do. Because if I don’t believe that I’m ready, then no one else will.”

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